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The New Political Divide

VIENNA: Despite traditional party labels, today’s most important political division is between two de-facto coalitions: call them the party of globalization and the party of territoriality. One seeks to overcome geographical boundaries, the other to restore them. To borrow from computer language, these are "virtual" parties, cutting across today’s organized political parties, and which include adherents of both new "parties."

These two new "parties" emerged from the exhaustion of class politics. Postwar western politics -- confrontations between social democratic parties supporting the welfare state and Christian Democratic or business oriented parties emphasizing the role of private capital -- effectively ended in the early 1980s. The old historic Left had lost its ideological purpose by the 1980s-- not because it failed, but because it succeeded.

Success meant the institutional anchoring of welfare states and policies designed to maintain high employment. Success implied expansion of such public goods as widespread university education. It did not mean the attainment of radical equality, but acceptance of Keynesian economics, the pursuit of full employment, the expansion of public education and pensions. But all the achievements of the postwar era came into question with the inflation, labor militancy, unemployment, and budget deficits of the 1970s. Dissatisfaction led to repudiation of social-democratic governments, as electorates turned to Thatcher, Reagan, and Helmut Kohl. Where Socialists did gain power -- in Spain and France -- they conformed to the new anti-inflationary realities.